The Sandpoint Eater: Sugar and spice and everything nice (and local)

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Food Columnist

I’ve got three busy weeks ahead of me, and I imagine I’m not alone. I’ve been baking and freezing or curing for the past month or so, and now comes the fun of packaging. Besides my obsession with cookbooks and table linens, I could put any professional gift wrap center to shame. I have tubs and totes filled with food-safe bags, cute little boxes and fine waxed papers. When Coldwater Creek sold off the last of their legacy, I didn’t see how I could live without the reams of ribbon, so I bought every remaining roll in their warehouse. Nine color and genre-coordinated totes later, I am a woman for all seasons. 

I also have a penchant for glass containers, such as miniature canning-type jars and fancy preserve jars, which I fill with homemade candies or spice mixes. Co-op Country Store stocks a variety of sizes of Kilner vintage inspired jars (my favorite). While you’re at the Co-op, check out their shelves filled with quality J.R. Watkins spices and extracts (I have a fondness for Watkins products, though they are no longer delivered to our homes).

Some of my favorite gifts to give are bulk spices that I mix and package in small jars, tiny muslin bags, or spice infusers or herb sachets with layered cheesecloth. You can find a great assortment of bulk spices at Yokes and Winter Ridge (Winter Ridge has over a hundred selections!).

Besides the spice infusers that you’ll find at Weekends & Company, they have the largest variety of quality, Norpro kitchen gadgets that I’ve seen outside of Pike Place Market. Pick up a small nutmeg grater, fill it with fresh nutmegs seeds from Winter Ridge, add a pie pan and your favorite recipe for a fruit pie or quiche (either recipe will be enhanced with a grating of fresh nutmeg), and you’ve got a thoughtful gift for a food enthusiast on your list.

Likewise, you can mix up your own batch of pickling spice, add it to crock and weight from Co-op, add your favorite pickle recipe and a box of kosher salt for your favorite pickle lover. Sometimes, I give a gift of pickling spices and a grocery store gift card, earmarked for fresh shrimp, add some cocktail sauce and package it all up in a bright colored colander.

Another thoughtful gift is a selection of tea leaves from Winter Ridge, filter tea bags from Scandinavian Affair, a beautiful Whiskey Jack pottery mug by Nicole Black and an assortment of tea cookies whipped up in your very own kitchen.

We’re fortunate to have such a great array of gift selections right here in “shop-local” Sandpoint. Adding a personal touch of homemade goods to your packages is thoughtful and a great opportunity to pass along favorite recipes to younger generations. My kids (and theirs) love to help me roll and stretch paper thin dough for povitica, an old-world nut pastry. It’s one of their favorite holiday traditions.

One of my favorite holiday traditions is a trip to Spokane to see the beautiful decorated trees at the Historic Davenport Hotel. I’m especially looking forward to it this year, as I’ll be traveling for the holidays and my house will be barren of decorations. Anyone who’s stayed at the Davenport is familiar with their pillow gift: the addictive and renowned Soft Peanut Brittle.  Since each member of my family, including the little adorable ones, can polish off their own pound of this famous confection, it was in my best (financial) interest to learn how to make my own. I’ve been making it for 10-plus years now, and it’s the most requested Christmas treat in my repertoire.

Whip up your own batch of Soft Peanut Brittle and make a welcome holiday package by adding a pound of Evans Brother coffee and a gift card from Panhandle Cone & Coffee — because nothing tops their hand-crafted ice cream like a sprinkling of crumbled brittle! If you need some ribbon for your finishing touches, just let me know.

Peanut (Soft) Butter Brittle Recipe — yields 2 pounds

If you love the Davenport’s famous brittle, you’ll love this too. Key reminders – this is a pot that needs watching! It can easily burn, so keep an eye on it towards the end. Work quickly and stretch-stretch-stretch, once you’ve poured the (HOT!) syrup. I dedicate a pair of white cotton gloves for stretching. Don’t double the batch-but do make two as your family will eat the first batch before you have time to package it up.


•2 cups creamy peanut butter

•1 teaspoon vanilla

•1½ cups sugar

•1½ cups light corn syrup

•¼ cup water

•2 tablespoons butter

•2 cups peanuts roasted/salted

(I chop some of them)

•1 teaspoon baking soda

•1 teaspoon water



Lightly butter a cookie sheet or marble slab.

Warm peanut butter, in glass bowl, in microwave – on defrost (it burns easily!) Just before needed, stir in vanilla. In a large heavy sauce pan combine the sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup of water. Cook over high heat to 275°F, lower the heat to medium, add butter, stirring until melted. Add the peanuts and continue to stir until the candy starts turning brown and reaches 300°F (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat, stir in baking soda that has been dissolved in the teaspoon of water. Working quickly, fold in the warm peanut butter until well blended. Pour the candy onto the marble slab or greased cookie sheet, spreading quickly, stretch as thin as possible (I use clean, cotton gloves). Store in cool area, in air tight container.


Spice Blend Recipes

These are a couple of my favorite spice blends to mix and package for year-around gifts. In the summer, for another aromatic gift, I cut young sprigs of rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and lavender, wrap the ends tightly with twine and hand to dry.

Herbs de Provence:


•2 tablespoons dried rosemary

•4 bay leaves

•1 tablespoon fennel seed

•2 tablespoons dried savory

•2 tablespoons dried thyme

•2 tablespoons dried basil

•2 tablespoons dried


•2 tablespoons dried

lavender flowers

•2 tablespoons dried

Italian parsley

•1 tablespoon dried oregano

•1 tablespoon dried tarragon

•1 teaspoon bay powder



Grind rosemary, bay leaves and fennel seed in a spice grinder (or use a coffee bean grinder dedicated to spices); transfer to a glass bowl and stir in savory, thyme, basil, marjoram, lavender, parsley, oregano and tarragon with the rosemary and fennel. Store in an air-tight container, away from light. Use in infuser or make sachet balls for cooking. Grind/sprinkle on finished meat and pasta dishes.


Pickling Spice:


•2 tablespoons mustard seed

•1 tablespoon whole allspice

•2 teaspoons coriander seeds

•2 whole cloves

•1 teaspoon ground ginger

•1 teaspoon crushed

red pepper flakes

•4 bay leaves, crumbled

•3 cinnamon sticks

(broke in half)



Add all ingredients to a clean glass jar. Shake it well. Place in infusers or small muslin bags for cooking, or pour in the bottom of your brining vessel.

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